Educational Center in San Salvador Offers Innovative Education through Interdisciplinary Team
El Salvador is in the process of developing new educational models to keep more youths off the streets, away from working in traffic lights, or dropping out of school and joining gangs. Latina Republic interviewed Wendy Carolina Alonzo de Rodriguez., the co-founder of Las Pequeñas Estaciones de Grachy, an innovative educational center that focuses on reinforcing academics with attention to a child’s physical, psychological and emotional health. The center provides comprehensive services to the children, their families and the communities. They focus on creativity, offer a variety of workshops and encourage the children’s entrepreneurial spirit. This visionary center is managed by an interdisciplinary team of professionals who currently volunteer their talents and time. “I want my children to learn that they do not have to wait for the labor system to absorb them, that they can take their talents, seize the day, and lead the system, themselves” Wendy Carolina Alonzo de Rodriguez.
Below, Wendy Rodriguez tells the story of this innovative center, details how they are filling a gap in the educational system, comments on what is missing in the education system in El Salvador and tells the story of how a collaborative professional team leads by example.
I am the mother of 4 girls. I am a marketer by profession, but 3 1/2 years ago I lost my job. Here in El Salvador the economic and social situation is quite difficult. Prior to launching our educational center, I worked for 10 years with a trade agency and later I held a position in the government sector, in the area of social projects.
When my daughter was 6 years old, she developed dyslexia and a speech impediment. She also had two surgeries in her left eye, and all these complications affected her studies.
To help her catch up with school, I reached out to Graciela Méndez, my oldest daughter’s best friend who is a licensed educator and who was unemployed at the time. Graciela generously contributed her time and expertise to work with my daughter.
Thanks to Gabriela’s tutorials my daughter made improvements in reading, writing, and in mathematics.
A Family Challenge Inspires a Dream
Helping my daughter overcome her educational challenges confirmed the idea of an educational project I had thought about over the years. My idea was also combined with Graciela Méndez’ own dream to launch an educational institution based on the pedagogical concept that teaching and learning are benefited through the role of play. This is how Las Pequeñas Estaciones de Grachy (Ludoteca Grachy) was born.
Graciela teaches our youngest children through games and reinforces academic work for the older ones through our homework club.
Lots of Professional Talent, Few Opportunities to Work
Here in our country of El Salvador, there is a lot of talent. We have many professionals without a job who are eager to work and to give everything of themselves. It is this circumstance that is creating an environment for professional collaborations in El Salvador. Both Gabriela and I are professionals who wanted to dedicate ourselves to children’s education. We decided to join forces and launch our center with little resources and for free.
A New Educational Model that Incorporates Physical, Emotional and Psychological Health
Today, Las Pequeñas Estaciones de Grachy has evolved from a day care and homework club, into a Centro de Desarrollo Integral, a holistic center where we are committed to educational reinforcement tailored to each child’s need. We incorporate physical and emotional health, family and community care, and the nurturing of entrepreneurial talents.
Every day, we seek to create a healthy learning environment where children develop academically while embracing curiosity, creativity, self-esteem, and play.
Healthy Development Means Being there for the children, day in and day out, attending, noticing, encouraging
We get to know each of our students as if they were members of our own families. If they are struggling in any area, we notice, and we intervene.
Seed Capital Propels the Dream
Last February we applied for seed capital through our Mayor’s office and we received the award. The small funding allowed us to start, but we have been facing many financial difficulties to sustain the project. Aside from the seed capital, the only help we have received has come from Graciela’s mother, from my husband, and through a small credit we took out to make sure that the children would be well-provided for.
The professional team that contributes to GRACHY is working for free. Most of our children’s families cannot afford to pay for our program, but we don’t want to turn them away if we can make room for them.
Demand for our program has grown – We need a larger location and funding to cover the needs of our students who cannot afford to pay.
We are surviving thanks to God, and thanks to all the small contributions that people give us. Many mothers are asking for our services, but the place we have is small.
Growing Beyond Capacity
Currently, we have 15 children attending our center.
Five of the working parents are able to pay our fees, which are relatively inexpensive compared to other daycare centers in the country that charge between $ 100 and $ 150 per month.
We are charging $50 dollars per month, to at least cover the food and basic services, such as purified water, snacks, diapers and other children needs.
Five of our families are able to pay us; and another 5 pay fees according to their possibilities, which are sometimes as low as 10 to 15 dollars; it all depends on how much they earn.
Five of our families pay nothing.
Our dream is to be able to integrate more students
Until we can afford to move into a larger location, we are operating in a small place where children of different ages share a common space. Our dream is to separate them according to ages and needs. We would like to have an infants’ room, because we have a big demand for infant daycare. We also have preschool-age children, school-age children through 12 years old, and we even have a teenager, so we are growing and diversifying in child and education needs.
Most of our students only come in the afternoon.
In order to serve all our families, we need cribs, and cots, and now that it is raining more, we also need blankets.
It hurts us to think that we don’t have the ability to absorb all the children who apply. We know that we are doing important work and that we are filling a void in educational reinforcement and family support.
Comparing education systems in El Salvador
When evaluating our various educational models in El Salvador, even the semi-private schools usually have 40 children for a single teacher. With this many children, the attention the students receive is not personalized. Teachers do not have the ability to adequately reinforce each child’s academic challenges.
Our current education system in El Salvador focuses on training students to pass exams. We feel that an exam does not determine a child’s knowledge.
If the teacher has so many children at the same time, and I am referring to a private school, imagine at a national level, with more students, fewer teachers, an infrastructure that needs work, and where study materials are scarce.
How well are our students learning? And what effect will this have on El Salvador’s next generation?
This is where we feel that educationally, we have to do better as a nation.
Here in El Salvador, we have a national exam called, Paes, which is a comprehensive exam of student knowledge.
It is well documented that 90 percent of children score poorly, which means they are either not receiving or capturing knowledge, properly.
There is a great need to reinforce knowledge. And there is an equal need to support parents who work all day. In some families, due to parental fatigue from working all day, there is no time or energy to help children with their homework.
The Advantages of Our Program
The advantage of our center is that after school parents do not have to leave children in the hands of their grandmothers to do homework, for example. We love our grandmothers, but most grandmothers do not have the ability to sit with the child to help them do their homework and see if they are doing them correctly. There are many grandmothers who cannot reinforce topics such as writing, reading, math or English. There are also the common cases of parents who cannot be home in the afternoons, out of necessity, which means many teens are home alone.
A Complete Approach to Raising the Next Generation
Ours is a very comprehensive program. We are trying to cover all areas, including health, education and psychological and emotional well-being.
We hope that our educational center will grow as one of the first of its kind, and that many more will follow throughout El Salvador.
We want to stop the drop-out rates in El Salvador, and raise a love of learning
We would love to see our children, off the streets, away from the delusion that joining criminal groups means easy money. That path only leads to jail or death. Sadly, we have a high index of school dropouts in the country. Many children stop going to schools to work in the streets.
Children should not be working at traffic lights, or wiping windshields. They should be learning to read, write and receiving an education.
We want our graduates to be the future leaders who will generate sources of employment for others; job creators who will absorb other professionals into their industries. Some will grow up to fill certain professional roles, others will grow up with an entrepreneurial spirit. It is important to give them the tools so that they can develop this important talent, whether they want to work in music or art, business, the restaurant industry, or other types of businesses. This type of entrepreneurial education is important.
Entrepreneurship and Talent Workshops – Developing an entrepreneurial spirit
We will be launching the following workshops:
- Piñateria Workshops
- Card Design Workshops
- Basic Sewing Workshops
- Basic Kitchen Workshops
- Embroidery and Painting Workshops
In addition to the workshops, we have a music teacher who also comes to help us from time to time to teach children guitar. We want to create a healthy alternative to idle time, which is dangerous for young people, and a great source of worry for parents who have to work.
We offer English Lessons
I am bilingual in English and I tutor children in English language development. In school they are sometimes taught quickly and without proper sequence. At our center, we individualize lessons and teach at a student’s pace.
By the time they get picked up, the homework for the day has been completed
Our moms are delighted because when they pick up their child, all homework has been completed. Their children don’t have to do their homework so late at night which means that the children can go to sleep at a normal time.
After school, GRACHI supports students
If they come to GRACHI after school, we give them their lunch, the youngest ones take a nap, and when they wake up, we start working on their homework and then, on crafts and workshops.
We Partner with Therapists
We are aware that many children suffer from depression but fear approaching their parents. This is especially the case when children are victims of bullying. Because we want to be more than an academic center and a daycare, we have brought in professionals such as our counselors and therapists to serve the needs of our children.
How Children Get to GRACHY
Parents either bring them to us after school or we take turns going to pick them up.
Fortunately, we are located in a centralized area near the schools, so this facilitates us picking up the children from local schools. We open at 6:30 in the morning and at 6:20 in the afternoon our last girl is picked up. We are here for our families, 12 hours each day.
Currently, we don’t have a van, or a bus to pick up children who live far away but this is an important goal for us.
How to apply to GRACHY
Our parents first complete a registration form. We do an initial interview where we do a student assessment with consideration of their environment. We have a psychologist who does an exploratory exam and Graciela conducts the educational evaluation. If the baby, youth, child or teen is struggling in any area, we like to identify that early on, so that we can provide additional support.
After 2 or 3 months, we evaluate their development and meet with the parents to share the child’s progress and set new goals.
Currently, we have a waiting list. We would like to integrate more students, but our space has been an issue. We have many families who cannot pay fees or transportation to the center because they live far away. One of our mothers, for example, is a street vendor and she takes her child with her when she works. She can’t afford the transportation charges, but would like to send her son to our center, for his safety and for the type of education that we offer. There are many cases like this one.
We are in the process of looking for a large house and for funds to pay the rent. Part of our vision is to rent a large house, like one we looked into recently with 5 rooms, that costs approximately $700 per month. Our plan would be to have 3 rooms for the 3 different groups of children, as well as space for our medical office, an office for counseling, and one for the administrative work.
This is our professional team
My name is Graciela Rivera, and I was born in San Salvador. I have a degree in Educational Sciences in Parvularia. I also have a teaching degree since I have always liked teaching and helping the little ones who I consider to be the future of our country. I have been a teacher for 8 years and I am very proud to have created a dream, such as the Ludoteca Grachy. This is an exciting time for us, since we are now a team of professionals coming together to achieve common goals, uniting our knowledge and efforts in order to foster in children good principles that will be the foundation for their future.
My name is Wendy Carolina Alonzo de Rodriguez. I was born in the City of Zacatecoluca, Department of La Paz, El Salvador. I have 4 daughters: 27, 24, 15 and 8 years respectively and they are my life engine. Since I was little I felt the vocation to help people, so I got involved in movements of both the community and the Church and that is why I decided to study Bachelor of Health in nursing option and later I started a medical career, but unfortunately I could not continue said career and I started working to contribute to family sustainability. With time and as a mother of family and supported by my work and family I graduated as a Bachelor of Marketing and as part of Social Marketing we conducted a Campaign in a Nursing Home in San Pedro Masahuat to raise resources, which awakened even more my desire to help. I joined Graciela Méndez to support her idea of Ludoteca Grachy, with its objective of teaching playing and homework club, art, music and crafts, which combined with my aspirations to provide children and adults with emotional and physical health in an integral way, since then I feel full of satisfaction and emotion to participate as a fundamental part to fulfill our dreams of helping many people through the Grachy Ludoteca Project.
My name is Carlos Ernesto Rodriguez Martinez, I was born in San Salvador and later for economic reasons we moved to the Tutunichapa Community in San Miguelito, one of the poorest areas of San Salvador. I participated actively since childhood as a volunteer in various campaigns and as a member of the Board of Directors as a teenager, in order to achieve community development in all areas, motivated by the philosophy of my father, who despite having no academic study and being a bricklayer encouraged us to study to improve ourselves. I joined the medical career at the University of El Salvador and graduated as a physician in 2001, already being a father of a family, married and with family responsibilities that motivated me even more, so I subsequently completed my residence in the specialty of General Surgery at the Rosales National Hospital. I work as Head of Emergency at the Luis Edmundo Vásquez de Chalatenango Hospital. I am honored to support my wife’s work in the ?Project, Ludoteca Grachy and to serve the community.
GRACHY team in the U.S.
My name is Nadin Hernandez and I grew up in San Salvador, El Salvador. From a very young age I have liked to do what I can to support those in need. At the age of 12 I visited a nursing home for the first time. Since that day, I knew that I had a vocation to serve and help others. I emigrated to the US at the age of 18, where I currently work in an assisted living facility as a nursing assistant. I am very excited to work with the great team of Grachy, the Ludoteca, because I know that many children will benefit from this great project. My future plans are to open a nursing home and a shelter for abandoned animals in El Salvador.
I am Sandra Yanira Canales, I was born in the department of Morazán to the East of El Salvador. From a very young age I have liked to help. I arrived in the United States in 1995, when I was just 13 years old. I arrived in Texas and since then, I reside in this beautiful state. I have two daughters and they are the reason to get ahead. I have a degree in computer programming and in business administration. I cannot express in words the happiness that I feel in knowing that we have the opportunity to be able to help in this great project, Ludoteca Grachy, and to be part of the wonderful future of many children, who from here on, will be prepared to be the great professionals of tomorrow.
Associated Team of Professionals
My name is Luis Alonso Reyes. I am a son of Salvadoran parents. I grew up in San Salvador, El Salvador. In my childhood and adolescence, I participated in community and student organizations. I was a volunteer in humanitarian aid in various natural disasters that affected the country during Hurricane Mitch 1998, earthquakes 2001, floods in Usulután in 2005. I did my university studies In the Latin American school of medicine in Cuba. As a medical student, I participated in community projects in health care in the municipalities of San Martín, San Salvador in 2009 and in the municipality of Jocoaitique, Morazan in 2010. I graduated as a general practitioner In 2013, I did my social service at the UCSF of Santa Rosa de Lima in the Union in 2014, and I held the position of medical director of the health unit.
It is an honor for me to be part of this great project, Ludoteca Grachy and to be a blessing to many children and adolescents and their families.
My name is Verónica de Acevedo, I have a degree in Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Language Therapy. Since childhood I was shown the joy of serving others through church service. That’s where I started looking for different ways to help others. In addition to my private practice, I provide services through my the church in family counseling and marriage preparation. I look forward to contributing my knowledge and skills, to the Ludoteca Grachy.
My name is María de los Ángeles Hernández Hernández. I have a degree in Psychology and have provided my professional services to an NGO that works in schools. I personally help children with limited financial resources in my community with school reinforcement, learning, behavioral and emotional problems. The Grachy Ludoteca project caught my attention because I identify with the professionals who have undertaken this worthy endeavor and see it as an opportunity to help the general population and people with limited economic resources.
I am Claudia Lorena Alonzo Moreno, I was born in the city of Zacatecoluca, I have a degree in Legal Sciences and I am currently working on the awareness and promotion of gender equality and equity, non-discrimination and a violence-free life for women. I am also working on the inclusion needs of vulnerable groups and human rights, especially of Salvadoran children, who deserve to grow with emotional balance. I am honored to contribute to Grachy in the legal area, both for the administration, and directly in family counseling of the users of the services provided here. I appreciate the opportunity given to me to contribute to this project.
My name is Edwin Velázquez Zelada. I have a degree in Marketing and work in the area of accounting . It is a pleasure for me to support the valuable work of the Grachy Ludoteca in the area of accounting. I grew up in the city of Apopa in San Salvador and since childhood I have witnessed the social difficulties we face as a country; however, I am also clear that with effort and dedication we can move forward. Working as a team we can contribute to the proper development of children who are our tomorrow.
I am Vladimir Sánchez. I have a degree in education and I was born in the town of Paraíso de Osorio, La Paz. I am a community leader and since childhood I have participated in different projects and actions aimed at helping community development, especially with children and young people. I appreciate the invitation to be part of this beautiful project, Las Pequeñas Estaciones de Grachy, and to date I have been working at the Ludoteca with the children who need it to strengthen the area of Mathematics and other subjects.
Las Pequeñas Estaciones de Grachy is the product of love for children and many collaborations. Beyond the center, the team believes in helping the community. Recently, they carried out an ophthalmological campaign in the Municipality of Mejicanos in which free ophthalmological consultations were given to children and adults, as well as lenses at low and accessible prices.
We have provided surgical procedures for low-income residents, for free.
Las Pequeñas Estaciones de Grachy
Located in Mejicanos, San Salvador